Professional Literary Agent in Britain

Professional Literary Agent in Britain

MARY ANN GILLIES
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2tv5b4
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  • Book Info
    Professional Literary Agent in Britain
    Book Description:

    The case studies not only provide insight into the business dynamics of the literary world at this time, but also illustrate the shifting definition of literature itself during the period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8499-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Permissions
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    William Heinemann concluded his remarks on literary agents, made in theAthenaeumin 1893, with this wish: ‘I cannot help hoping that [The Society of Authors] will go a step further and lend its powerful aid to kill the canker that is eating itself into the very heart of our mutual interests.’² Heinemann’s virulently anti-agent comments are among the first salvos launched in one of the most contentious debates in turn-of-the-twentieth-century literary culture. Publishers almost uniformly condemned the literary agent as an unwelcome, opportunistic interloper. Agents were singled out for harsh criticism on all sorts of grounds, not the least...

  6. 1 Why Did the Professional Literary Agent Emerge in the 1880s?
    (pp. 12-26)

    In the late 1870s, A.P. Watt set up shop as a literary agent. His self-proclaimed task was to ‘do nothing but sell or lease copyrights,’¹ and to make his living doing so, thereby distinguishing him from ‘amateur’ literary agents – the friends or relatives of writers – who had preceded him. Before examining Watt’s establishment of himself as a literary agent, it is necessary to answer the question: what was it about this time that prompted Watt, and others who followed his lead, to embark on a business that until then had not been thought of as necessary? If we look outside...

  7. 2 A.P. Watt: Professional Literary Agent
    (pp. 27-39)

    In 1975, A.P. Watt and Son celebrated its centenary as a literary agency. As Hilary Rubinstein, a partner in the firm since 1965, wrote at the time, ‘Literary agencies, more than most businesses, depend for their success on the personality of their principals’; moreover ‘many, probably most, do not outlive the lifetime of their progenitor.’¹ The firm’s ‘progenitor’ – Alexander Pollock Watt – not only established the foundation for his family’s business, but also established the profession of literary agency. Watt was, in many respects, an unlikely candidate for such a revolutionary position. He was a reserved man, who was described as...

  8. 3 Establishing the Agency Model: George MacDonald and Watt
    (pp. 40-63)

    George MacDonald – preacher, poet, and novelist – became A.P. Watt’s first client in the late 1870s. MacDonald’s background mirrored Watt’s in that both were Scots, both had strong, Nonconformist religious beliefs, and both loved literature. More is known about MacDonald’s early years than Watt’s, though. He was born in 1824 in Huntly, in north-east Scotland, to a family that had once been prosperous, but had seen its fortunes slide over the years. Initially George’s father (also named George) lived in a house next to that inhabited by his own mother, the contiguous houses having a connecting door between them. Young George’s...

  9. 4 Testing the Agency Model: ‘Lucas Malet’ and Watt
    (pp. 64-86)

    Lucas Malet was the pseudonym adopted by Mary St Leger Kingsley Harrison, the younger daughter of the well-known Victorian theologian and writer Charles Kingsley.¹ Born in 1852, she was schooled at home by tutors and studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, with the intention of becoming a professional painter. Patricia Srebrnik describes her as ‘in her youth … a dutiful daughter’ who gave up painting when her father ‘insisted she become engaged to his close friend and assistant curate William Harrison.’² Yet she also displayed an independent streak that was in evidence when the Prince of Wales...

  10. 5 The Second Wave of Agenting: J.B. Pinker
    (pp. 87-110)

    By the mid-1890s, A.P. Watt’s position as the only literary agent who mattered appeared unassailable. He was not without challengers, but most of them were unable to match his flair for business and his influence in the print culture field.¹ The pages of theAuthorthroughout the 1890s and into the first decades of the twentieth century warned against unscrupulous agents, and its editor, Walter Besant, advised his readership to deal with established and trustworthy agencies.² He presumably steered many writers towards his own agent, A.P. Watt.³ In publications aimed at book publishers and sellers, the agent’s role was also...

  11. 6 The Agent and ‘Popular’ Literature: Somerville and Ross and Pinker
    (pp. 111-135)

    Irish cousins Edith Oenone Somerville and Violet Martin met for the first time in 1886. There was little indication over the summer of Violet Martin’s visit to Castletownshend, the west Cork home of her Somerville cousins, of the unique writing partnership that was soon to be established. Nevertheless, in the course of the next two decades they would combine to write some of the most memorable fiction produced in the dying years of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Although both women had begun writing separately prior to this meeting, it was the work that they wrote together as Somerville and Ross¹ that...

  12. 7 Building a Career: Joseph Conrad and Pinker
    (pp. 136-164)

    The previous two chapters have argued that J.B. Pinker’s adaptation of A.P. Watt’s agenting template affected not only how literary agents conducted business but also the literature that was produced during the early twentieth century. In both chapters, a central argument was that Pinker’s willingness to vary his standard business practices contributed to the eventual success (economic and/or critical) of these writers. This chapter will develop the argument further by examining Pinker’s relationship with Joseph Conrad. The chapter initially travels some familiar territory as it sketches out the associations between the two men. It examines their business relationship, assessing it...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-172)

    A.P. Watt died in 1914; J.B. Pinker in 1922. Their deaths marked the end of two eras in literary agenting, but they also coincided with two significant shifts in literary culture. It seems appropriate to conclude this discussion of the origins and rise of literary agency with some brief reflections on both of these points.

    When A.P. Watt died on 3 November 1914, Europe was embroiled in the early days of the First World War. British papers were filled with war news from the continent and the home front. Accounts of battles taking place in previously obscure European locations; commentaries...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 173-220)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-248)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)